Friday, November 27, 2009

The Nook - After Action Report

Casper's and Runyon's Nook lived up to the hype. Club members were uniformly impressed with the burgers, service, ambiance and the value. The beer took a slight hit for a small selection and the "pretzel-tasting" Cygnus X-1. The Nook easily scored at the club's all time favorite (so far), with an overall score of 4.25, a half point higher than the Blue Door!

Let's break it down:

Overall Score: 4.25
Burgers: 4.17
Sides: 4.00
Beer: 3.67
Service: 4.83
Ambiance: 4.17
Value: 4.67

View the detailed scores here.

Up next month is Ike's Food & Cocktails on 21 December. Get ready for some holiday-burger-grubbin'.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Half Way to our Top 10!

The BOTM Club has hit it's halfway point in defining our Top Ten Best Burger Joints in the Twin Cities. Here's the rankings so far:

The Nook: 4.25
The Blue Door: 3.77
Grovland Tap: 3.67
5-8 Club: 3.33
Bulldog NE: 2.81
Matt's Bar: 2.38

Up this month (November) is Casper and Runyon's Nook in St Paul.

Matt's Bar - After Action Report

Matt's Bar was the destination in October. The club was roundly disappointed with Matt's Bar, the purported inventor of the Jucy Lucy. Matt's has the dubious honor of being lowest in the BOTM rating to date. Let's break it down:

Overall Average Score: 2.38

Burger: 2.25
Sides: 2.25
Beer: 2.75
Service: 2.25
Ambiance: 2.25
Value: 2.50

Detailed scoring and commentary.

The club seemed uniformly disappointed in both the food and the service. It didn't seem that Matt's lived up to its legendary hype.

Blue Door - After Action Report

In August the BTOM Club hit the Blue Door. It ranked the highest in our quest for the perfect burger joint to date, with an aggregate score of 3.77. Let's break it down:

Burger: 4
Sides: 4.25
Beer: 3.75
Service: 3.5
Ambiance: 3.5
Value: 4.25

Scoring details and commentary.

Seems like we were consistently happy with our burgers, and really enjoyed the sides (with the exception of the SPAM bites). The deep fried green beans got unanimous praise. Club members also seemed happy with quality beers served at $3/pint. Nice job Blue Door! We'll be coming back!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bulldog NE After Action Report

Alas! The highly anticipated (and postponed) trip to the Bulldog NE was by most accounts a disappointment. Club members unanimously agreed that the service was bad (messed up orders, missing orders and an interminable wait for the bill). Most members were also disappointed with the quality of the burgers (notable exceptions were Todd and Joe). A high point for most of the club were the sides (my personal favorites were the poblano poppers), and the beer selection / quality. Below is a rundown of the voting:

Burger: 2.86
Sides: 3.43
Beer: 3.86
Service: 1.29 (a new record low!)
Ambiance: 3
Value: 2.43
Average Overall Score: 2.81

Full rating and comments can be found here.

I do have to editorialize a bit. The service at the bar (prior to taking our seat) was superb. The barkeep was prompt, informative, and helped reserve a table big enough for the 7 of us. His level of engagement and service easily merits a 5.

Next up is The Blue Door in St Paul on September 21st at 7PM. Here is a list of the rest of our tentative schedule (open to reprioritizing at any BOTM meeting).

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Shawdows Over St Paul

Courtesy Pete Gilbertson; RE: our trip to Groveland Tap.

Shadows Over Saint Paul

The oldest and strongest sensation of mankind is hunger. And the oldest and strongest kind of hunger may be hunger for sandwiches. HP Gilbertson

Zounds, Gadzooks, and Other Arcane Lingo! The world’s oldest culinary pursuit, the Burger Quest, rides on once again this time at the Groveland Tap. Man, if you’re driving the speed limit down St. Clair Avenue you just might miss it. The facade is that small. However, a tiny store front with weeman-sized sidewalk patio obfuscates the cyclopean surprises inside this pub. I’m not kidding. The Groveland Tap reminds me of the doghouse of famous St. Paul alum Charles Schultz’s notorious beagle--ordinary exterior, paradoxically enormous interior. But as we were seated within the confines of the Lilliputian patio, I did not discover the Tap’s dark intricate secrets until much later when I went inside to find our server. Then it got weird. More of that later.
Customary reviews? The beverage and food quality were some of the best we’ve had. The beer selection? First-class! Especially for such a(n alleged) small bar, even if the beer pricing was literally out of sight. We inadvertently paid $40 for a pitcher of Goose Island; which, oddly, is a beer I did not pay $40 dollars for the weekend before when I was in Chicago--that interstate tax must be a bitch. What made the food so impressive (or oppressive as the night wore on)? Cheese, man, the cheese. It was everywhere! I began the night with cheese curds reminiscent of the vaunted Minnesota State Fair faire--so good when you first get ahold of that greasy red and white checkered boat, but as soon as those curds cool down the accumulation of grease on your hands, tongue, and veins wears you out until you can’t finish them. I’ve dubbed them “a cholesterol nightmare.” But I wasn’t done with fromage. Nope, I followed that up with a juicy lucy (best one so far. Fact!) and then finished the evening with a warm slice of apple pie, which was nothing extra-special--except that it was bearing a molten slice of cheddar cheese.

The service suffered due to a server no-show and the most peculiar dimensions inside the Tap (more on that later). Don’t get me wrong. Friendly service, ripe with innuendo, is a big advantage to me. But at the end our meal the experience became like the Hotel California; we could pay our tab anytime we liked, but we couldn’t leave because our server vanished. That’s when I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands and inspect the Tap’s other amenities. Little did I know, that’s when the night truly began.

The Tap opens into a darkly lit room accented by the grimy scarlet and amber glows of assorted neon beer and liquor signs. Their hues, however, barely reveal the establishment’s thoroughfare and merely hint of the hidden alcoves of booths and nether region locations of the restrooms. One thing they do highlight is the incomprehensible marshaling of beer keg handles lining the walls like a memorial to the draft beers served in the trenches of The Groveland Tap. The assembly of draft handles was eerily reminiscent of a battlefield burial; as if the beer levers were spear shafts and stanchions broken, retired, and driven into the battle-scarred terrain to commend their outstanding service and the sacrifice they rendered. Maybe it was the power of suggestion due to the establishment’s moniker, but for a moment I thought I heard Taps in The Tap. And during this musing I saw our server, told her we needed our check, she nodded and I tried to find the restroom.

That’s when I got lost. And my life changed forever.

In hindsight, it may have been the amount of excellent beer I had imbibed. Or it could have been the system shock I received when I realized how big the inside of the Tap was. Or maybe, just maybe, there was something more nefarious at work there as you could easily rename The Tap, “The House of Leaves You Bewildered” (read Danielewski’s novel and you’ll know what I mean). The darkened entryway stretched nefariously into a long hallway well beyond the bowling lane proportions I had assumed. A narrow bar extended along my left, while a slightly convex wall concealing the kitchen occupied my right. And yet, still no bathroom. I pushed on further into The Tap’s recesses and discovered, to my surprise, yet another seating area! And beyond that a pool table and an arcade! Where did all of this come from! Even more astonishing was that this back area was populated by dozens of people. Where had all of these people come from? Surely that much traffic hadn’t crossed the patio without my notice. Were they permanent residents? Did they ever leave? I mean the area was jammed with people and chairs and tables full of food and beer among elbows, food smears, and litter; the walls were lined with smiles and the glow from more neon signs, meanwhile the atmosphere was thick with banter, dim light, and the succulent smell of cooked meats and a concoction of all things deep-fried. Overwhelmed, I ceased my pursuit and retreated back to the entryway. And if you’ve traversed the inside of Groveland Tap, you know that its corridors were not meant to be crossed in a single day, which could explain both the high tariff on beer and the slow service.

However, the fearful symmetry of elongated wooden hallways, sloping floors, slightly off angle walls, and hidden alcoves of seating, gaming, cooking, wagering, and urinating couldn’t prepare me for the horror of what awaited me inside the men’s room...when I finally found it. The most terrifying of all was the love seat-sized stainless steel urinal. What an enigma! It was more than big enough for a normal man to use--luxurious in fact!--but woefully undersized for two men to comfortably use simultaneously. Fortunately, I was alone. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. Surely, an oversized gentleman--or possibly the Cthuloid embodiment of The Groveland Tap itself--raised on an excessive diet of cheese, beef, beer, and all things deep-fried and bearing pale and clammy flesh blasphemously exposed for all unwilling eyes to see on account of his being clad in a tank-top disgustingly grease-stained and yellowed along the sides by cascades of amber armpit crust neither stood next to me nor pressed his tuffs of hairy bicep flesh into my shoulder. Nor did he evacuate a fist-sized ball of writhing phlegm into that accursed urinal not quite built for two.

I capered out of the Groveland Tap’s inner sanctum and reported my findings to my comrades of The Quest. Thankfully, for them, none of them had to use the restroom. It took several more minutes for our tab to be processed, but it may take longer than forever to forget the sprawling chaos of The Tap’s inner architecture and the hoary madness of its bathroom fixtures.
Burgers 4-Better than other 4s I've had. May be the best. And I could revise in hindsight.

Sides 4-Dang near perfect taste, but I wanted more variety.

Beer 5-The selection of fluids along with the frosted glasses cannot be surpassed.

Service 2 -My 3 would be average service and no complaints.

Ambiance 3-That'd be a 5 if you wanted a house of horrors!: )

Value 4-Can we find this good (or better) for cheaper? Let the Quest continue!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The beer/food combo

I thought this article about finding good fare to accompany a good beer is worth sharing. In our quest for the best burger, I posit that it will likely be found sitting next to a very tasty brew.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More from the NY Chapter of BOTM Club

The New York Chapter of the BTOM Club has been getting a lot of press. I thought people would get a kick out of reading about and watching them in action. Just to be clear, the Twin Cities Chapter was not inspired by these east coasters! We are the Leibnitz to their Newton, both independently stumbling on a great idea. Our chapter was born out of a debate between myself and my friend Brad regarding the best burger in St Paul / Minneapolis. As we could not agree, and as the City Pages choses a new place every year for the "best burger", we decided to find out for ourselves.

Here are the links to stories about the NY chapter:

Their website
NY Time article
On the Today Show

Groveland Tap - After Action Report

The BOTM Club hit famed St Paul eatery The Groveland Tap on Monday night, and the joint lived up to its reputation. We were all impressed by the quality of the burgers, cheese curds, onion rings, and that oh-so-damn-good chipotle ketchup. Most of us were also impressed by the breadth of tap selections (just be careful to mind the prices; we unintentionally ordered a $40 pitcher of Goose Island!). The voting thus far has:

Burgers: 4
Sides: 4
Beer: 5
Service: 3
Ambiance: 4.5
Value: 3

For an overall score of 3.67.

Detailed rankings and commentary can be found here.

Our visit also invoked the spirit of the Bard in our illustrious Presidente. Below are his nocturnal ruminations....

Although I consider myself far from being a bard and certainly not the bard of this band of brothers, in the quest for the best burger and beer in our faire cities, I am inspired to declare my few thoughts on last evening. Although we may have overspent a few more pence than we may have liked on our ale, it was certainly not the intention of the serving wench nor the bearded manager fellow to take from us our gold in an unfaire manner. They kept the ale flowing well, the food a little slower, but as the two hours spent at the table was a spirited matter, I enjoyed the ribaldry and gaiety of the evening.

Friday, June 12, 2009

El Presidente here

Imagine my surprise when I walk into my favorite coffee shop today to get this week's City Pages, and the cover story is about ranking the Twin Cities' newest burger joints. Is there something in the air?

I'll wait a while before reading it, as I want this search to be a semi-nomadic one. If there is a roadmap right in front of you, how fun is that? (Plus, they don't have a gonzo-like writer like our Pete.)

That's it for now, Burger Dudes.

El Presidente

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bovine and Barley Ruminations, How it Behooves Us

Courtesy Pete Gilbertson, BTOM Chief Intelligence Officer

What goes into determining the best beer and burger combo in the Twin Cities? Factors, man. Lots of ins and outs and what have yous. If you merely want the most supreme beef-n-bun amalgamation in existence, I’d wager you could go all mad scientist and, in time, devise the nigh perfect blend of herbs and spices with your preferred brand of beef, squish it all together into patty format, and grilled ‘em up in the backyard, fry a few in a hot skillet, or bake some in the oven. And while you’re at it you might as well dedicate a few years to brewing your own batches of beer down in your cellar while refining your formula until you’ve achieved elite status and become a world renowned brewmaster and beer sommelier.

It may take awhile, but man what a journey!

However, my spin on the “Beer and Burger Quest for Men” proposed be El Jefe Maximo seeks to bend the laws of space and time and accelerate the resolution of this culinary crusade. I’m of the opinion that this meaty endeavor began long ago--approximately a few milliseconds after the dawn of ground beef and the invention of sliced bread--by vast legions of humans and subhumans alike. Now, while it has been often said that there are multiple commonalities between myself and my neanderthal forbearers, in this instance--the pursuit of truth, justice, and the perfection of the hamburger way--I am not insulted. Fact: humanity has been pursuing the ideal cooked meat sandwich for eons, and many of the people who continue this pursuit today are indubitably more skilled with a spatula than I am, employ their skills in hamburger creation on a daily basis, and offer their beer and burger discoveries for sale to the public--sometimes even at “special” prices! Even Darwin himself would fast-forward through time to partake in the endgame of humanity’s natural selection of the greatest hamburger of all-time!

And why shouldn’t I?

Since that questing beast of a sandwich could exist anywhere, we might as well start looking here in the Twin Cities. What am I looking for? Primarily? Transcendent flavor. The perfect combination of meat and bread and a cool, refreshing beverage that will accentuate the taste of that wonderful freshly cooked juicy mass like no other beer could. After that I’m looking at the establishment’s side dishes, ambiance, and aesthetics: big screen tvs showing sports, pool table, potato vintage and selection (ie fries, skins, tots, wedges, etc.), jukebox, clean bathrooms, interesting decor, patio, view, friendly service, and affordable pricing to name a few.

Our first stop was at the 5-8 Club. Renown for their award-winning “Juicy Lucy” and sordid past of being a speakeasy joint during Prohibition, the 5-8 still offers a tasty sandwich stuffed with cheese, cold beer, and three kinds of potatoes! Fries, potato skins, and the nefarious Extreme Jojos that are served with chili (and apparently the secret ingredient in extreme flatulence production!) However, there are a few flaws. The service suffers at the 5-8 more so than their competition when they are busy, the patio is fantastic except for the lack of TVs and that you have to fight through a narrow hallway to get in and out of it--uncool if you need to find a urinal in a hurry.

Was it the best burger I’ve ever had? No. But it was a great place to start, and a good place to check out again.

‘Til next time: may the burger be with you.

Review of the 5-8 Club (May 2009)

Below is our review of the 5-8 Club.

The club unanimously agreed that the 5-8 Club visits was slightly disappointing. The "veterns" of this pub, found the beer and service lacking. However, the 5-8 club came in with a solid, but not shattering overall ranking of 3.3 (on a 5 point scale). The breakdown by category is below:

Burgers: 3.8
Sides: 2.8
Beer: 3.0
Service: 2.6
Ambiance: 3.4
Value: 4.4

So - strong points for good burgers, good atmosphere and great value. Not so great for quality of service, the sides and the beer. The detailed scores can be found at:

BOTM Club - Twin Cities Chapter

Here's the initial post to kick off the Twin Cities Chapter of the Burger of the Month Club.

The vision: to discover the best "burger 'n beer" tavern in St Paul or Minneapolis while simultaneously enjoying a "guy's night out."

Ground rules (if you don't like these, exceptions may be granted if the argument is compelling):

  • Tavern must serve quality burgers (preferably have a reputation going in)
  • Ideally good fries should accompany said burger
  • Ideally has that Minneapolis invention on the menu...the Jucy Lucy! This is definitely not mandatory, just a nice plus.
  • Tavern must serve beer. Preferably good, cheap and cold.
  • No corporate chains (eg, Champps, Applebees, etc.)
  • No taverns out in the burbs. If our burb brethren want to discover the best Burb Burger, that's their prerogative.
  • Manly taverns are a plus.

Club Officers:
  • El Presidente: Joe
  • Chief of Staff: El Jefe
  • Head of Intelligence: Pete
  • Treasurer: Javen
  • Cultural Attache / Ambassador: Todd
Provisional 2009/2010 Schedule:
Club meetings will always be the 3rd Monday of each month, unless the officers decide otherwise.
  • 5-8 Club: May
  • Groveland Tap:June
  • Matt's Bar: July (July maybe crazy due to Pete getting married and Jefe getting a little girl!)
  • The Blue Door Pub: Aug
  • The Bulldog (NE): Sept
  • The Nook: Oct
  • The Sportsman's Pub: Nov
  • Shamrocks Grill & Pub: Dec
  • Herkimer Pub: Feb
  • Sweeney's: March
  • Ike's Food & Cocktails: April
  • The Cardinal: May